Knocking on Two Million Doors in Georgia

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Ufot first met Abrams at a New Year’s Day brunch in 2014, after returning to Georgia following stints in the energy industry and with a teacher’s union in Canada. She was impressed by Abrams’s command of statistics but skeptical that her plan to transform the electorate would work. Then, however, “She told me that there were over a million Georgians of color, mostly Black Georgians, who were eligible to vote and completely unregistered,” Ufot said. “And that made me sit up and stop eating my eggs.”

A few days before we spoke, the Georgia secretary of state’s office had once again begun investigating the New Georgia Project for election-law violations. Brad Raffensperger, the current secretary of state, had opened a case concerning the organization and three other voting-​registration groups, which he accused of violating election law by “repeatedly and aggressively” soliciting ineligible, out-of-state and dead voters ahead of the runoff. Addressing reporters at the state’s Capitol, Raffensperger said his office had received several complaints about New Georgia’s campaign to have supporters write postcards to people in the state encouraging them to register and vote. “Here’s something that came into our house yesterday,” he said, holding up three New Georgia postcard mailers. “It’s to my son Brenton J. Raffensperger who passed away two years ago.”

Ufot insisted that her group had simply sent postcards to volunteers who had expressed interest in sending letters to eligible Georgia voters encouraging them to vote. A packet of the postcards were sent to the wrong address in New York, she said, and the mailings that went to Raffensperger’s deceased son were a mistake based on publicly available state data. “We have regular dealings with the secretary of state and their investigators and their whole office,” she said. “No one has contacted us, no one has contacted our attorneys.”

Ufot also pointed to the political context: Raffensperger, a Republican, was locked in a public spat with President Trump, who continued to push false claims of major voter fraud in Georgia and had retweeted calls for Raffensperger and Kemp to be jailed. Both Loeffler and Perdue joined in calling on Raffensperger to resign and declaring the management of the election “an embarrassment for our state.” Raffensperger maintained that Republicans had lost the election fair and square. “They got outworked,” he later said in an online forum hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center. Raffensperger was being bullied by members of his own political party, Ufot said, “but what you can’t do is bully our civil rights organizations and voting rights organizations to re-establish your Republican bona fides.” (Kemp’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)

In the meantime, a flurry of lawsuits descended on the race ahead of the election focused broadly, again, on who gets to vote. A judge dismissed a suit by several voter-advocacy groups, including Black Voters Matter, asking Georgia to restore nearly 200,000 voters purged from the rolls because of address changes. Three suits at the federal and state levels by Republican-led groups, one of which was joined by Perdue and Loeffler, pushed to restrict absentee voting. Two have been dismissed; the third suit seeks to limit the use of ballot drop boxes to business hours. [Dec. 29, 2020: The third of the suits was settled after the print version of this article went to press.]

Ufot had set a goal of registering 10,000 voters before the runoff registration deadline of Dec. 7 and turned to the army of volunteers she had assembled, 4,500 of whom had worked during the general election, to get it done. There were toy and food drives in College Park and Columbus, literature drops and canvassing in Athens, a bike rally in Atlanta. By the deadline, they had managed about 7,000 registrations.

Historically, runoffs have favored Republican candidates. The wave that carried Biden into office, translated into real numbers, was only about 12,000 votes, an amount a runoff could easily shed. Still, Ufot has hope for high turnout. About a third of early and absentee voters whose races were known were Black, compared with 27 percent in the general election. That number is slightly higher than the number of Black people who voted early in the general election. Older voters who lean conservative made up about 37 percent of the early runoff voters, according to Georgiavotes, a voting data website. Between Oct. 5, the registration deadline for the general election, and the Dec. 5 deadline for the runoff, nearly 76,000 new voters signed up, according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution.



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